Dean Rohrer

Química de relojería

OXFORD - En la novela de Anthony Burgess (y la película de Stanley Kubrick) La naranja mecánica, a Alex, psicópata impenitente, le abren los ojos por la fuerza y lo obligan a ver imágenes violentas. Al igual que el perro de Pavlov, lo programan para responder con náuseas a la violencia y el sexo. La escena sigue siendo chocante, pero, como la mayor parte de la ciencia ficción, se ha quedado atrás. La psicología conductista en la que se inspiró ha perdido vigencia desde hace tiempo y hoy suena pasado de moda el temor de que la ciencia se utilice para promover, o incluso obligar, que la gente sea moralmente mejor.

La ciencia ficción envejece rápido, pero tiene una larga vida de ultratumba. En la última década, un ejército de psicólogos, neurólogos y biólogos evolutivos ha estado intentando descubrir los "mecanismo de relojería" neurales que subyacen a la moralidad humana. Han empezado a rastrear los orígenes evolutivos de sentimientos pro-sociales como la empatía, y han comenzado a descubrir los genes que predisponen a algunas personas a una violencia sin sentido y a otras a actuar de manera altruista, y las vías que en nuestro cerebro dan forma a nuestras decisiones éticas. Entender cómo funciona algo es empezar a ver formas de modificarlo e incluso controlarlo.

De hecho, los científicos no sólo han identificado algunas de las vías cerebrales que dan forma a nuestras decisiones éticas, sino también las sustancias químicas que modulan esta actividad neuronal. Un estudio reciente ha demostrado que el antidepresivo Citalopram puede cambiar las respuestas de los individuos a hipotéticos escenarios de dilema moral. Las personas que recibieron el medicamento estaban menos dispuestas a sacrificar a una persona para salvar las vidas de otras. Otra serie de estudios ha demostrado que cuando se administra la hormona oxitocina mediante aerosol nasal, aumenta el comportamiento de confianza y cooperación dentro de los grupos sociales, pero también disminuye la cooperación con aquellos que son percibidos como forasteros. Los neurocientíficos hasta han "desactivado" mediante magnetismo áreas muy específicas del cerebro de personas para influir de manera sorprendente en sus juicios morales; por ejemplo, haciendo que les resulte más fácil mentir.

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